The 15th Congress went on a two-week recess yesterday with the House of Representative holding a marathon session to review the projects that congressmen want to be funded by the realigned Priority Development Assistance Fund.
“We will do our best to approve it tonight,” said Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, chairman of the powerful appropriations committee that is deliberating the pending General Appropriations Act of 2014.
The Senate, on the other hand, did not extend their sessions because its finance committee only completed a little more than half the projected number of hearings on the funding requirements of the national government.
The senators were also beleaguered by public demands for an explanation on the P50 million they supposedly received purportedly in connection with the removal of former chief justice Renato Corona last year.
Both the House and the Senate expect to have the bill approved on third reading before the year ends in order for President Aquino to sign the measure into law by January 2014.
Ungab said House leaders expect to approve the budget bill, or House Bill 2630, on second reading before they go on recess and will take it up on third and final reading when they resume session on Oct. 14.
“As for re-alignments, I don’t think there will be re-alignments because most of the budget is already itemized. The PDAF was scrapped and it was re-aligned into items in social services,” Ungab said at press time as congressmen deliberated on department budgets.
The portion on lump-sum funds was scheduled to be the penultimate item on the agenda and was expected to be tackled before dawn of Saturday, Ungab added.
Ungab said the House also formed a small committee that will work on proposed amendments to the Palace-proposed P2.268-trillion national budget during the recess.
Ungab confirmed that some congressmen have already filed requests for infrastructure projects to be funded by the re-aligned PDAF.
“Most of them have already submitted their proposals which we will include in the period of amendments. During the break, there will be a small committee that will collate all the amendments so that before we are able to pass it on third reading, the proposed amendments are all complete,” Ungab said.
“We expect everybody to submit [requests] because everybody wants to nominate good projects for their constituents [and] sectors,” he added.
Under the House approved budget, each congressman will be allotted P24.5 million for hard or infrastructure projects as provided for under the new proposed guidelines for the re-aligned.
Ungab maintained that the 2014 budget will deny congressmen the discretion to determine the recipients of pork barrel funds.
Instead, these funds were re-aligned to five executive agencies, such as the Department of Public Works and Highways, Department of Health, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Education and Commission on Higher Education and the Department of Labor and Employment.
As for soft projects, Ungab said lawmakers are not allowed to make any recommendation in behalf of their constituents as they have to follow certain mechanisms to be provided under the 2014 budget bill.
“We gave the soft portion to different departments. I understand every congressman has been informed that there are existing guidelines, policies that need to be followed. So everyone has to follow,” Ungab said. “They are only allowed to submit proposals for hard projects.”
Ungab also said that the House-approved version of the measure provides that the lump-sum appropriations under executive agencies, including the Office of the President, will be retained.
He said the government will have a hard time operating in times of calamities without the necessary funding available, stressing that natural calamities such as typhoons are unpredictable. With Macon Araneta
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